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Leopard print bikinis and body exfoliation: Living outside my comfort zone

February 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Usually the things that I get to do in the field are sooooo cool. But my job also often requires me to do things that are outside of my comfort zone.  Seriously, I do things when I’m working that I would never do otherwise. It is almost like I have an alter ego that sometimes takes over when I’m in the field.  Outside the field I’m a somewhat antisocial, risk-averse, fussy vegetarian that likes the creature comforts of life.  But my alternate, fieldwork persona, we will call her Mel, is crazily social, fearless, impervious to embarrassment, above gastrointestinal upset, and generally unflappable.

When we were studying hair loss, I visited hair salons, talked to stylists and got my hair cut FOUR times.  When we studied tourism in Atlanta, I visited the Cheetah, a high-end gentleman’s club and also a world famous tourist spot.  I conducted in-context fieldwork while naked women danced all around me.  When we were studying infant nutrition in the Philippines I was offered an expensive delicacy for lunch that just so happened to be congealed cow’s blood!  Although I don’t drink alcohol, I’ve consumed cognac, homemade berry liquor, limoncello and lots of wine during fieldwork.

But last summer, I had one of my most interesting and challenging contextual mapping assignments.  It all began with a trip to Istanbul and a desire to understand hygiene rituals.  A logical stop in this trip was the local hamam (Turkish bath).  I was woefully uneducated about what to expect (this is actually a job requirement—taking an inductive approach so as not to have too many pre-conceived thoughts).

When I arrived in Istanbul, our local ethnographer called to arrange my visit to the hamam.  She told me they said I would need to bring a bikini.  It had been many years since I had owned a bikini, so I asked if it would be possible to do the exfoliation treatment nude (that is how I sometimes get massages and I thought this would be a similar experience).  I was imagining a private room, with towels and blankets to cover me.  My colleague informed me that the hamam was insisting that I wear a bikini but that I could purchase one there.

When I arrived at the hamam, I was given a box full of potential bikinis.  The one that fit best was a leopard print number that barely covered the essentials.  At this point I should tell you that non-fieldwork Melinda dresses pretty conservatively, usually in black.  No worries, however, Mel was there to put on the leopard print.

Once I walked into the room where the exfoliation experience was to take place, I realized why they had insisted that I wear a bikini.  It turns out that the exfoliation treatment happens in a communal area!  As I sat in the pool and waited for my turn, I experienced a rush of thoughts and emotions.  I went from being embarrassed and resentful of the leopard print bikini to being SOOOOOOO thankful that I had been forced to wear it.  I had rapid images of what WOULD have happened if they had granted my request to do the treatment nude.

My elation was short lived, however, once I had a good look at what was going to happen next. . . .  The exfoliation took place on a large marble slab where 2-3 women could lay at once.  The spa workers prepared each woman for her exfoliation by removing her bikini top and fashioning the bikini bottom into a thong.  Did I mention that my client was with me?  Yes, sitting in the pool, with my client, waiting for the eventual removal of the bikini top and conversion of the bikini bottom into a thong, Melinda and Mel began to have an internal dialogue.  Melinda was saying ‘this is so inappropriate and unprofessional.’  Mel was saying ‘don’t be ridiculous, this is fieldwork, you are just doing your job, pay attention to what is happening.’

Have you ever been so embarrassed that you felt like you were having an out of body experience? The exact moment this happened was during the actual exfoliation process.  There are a lot of details that I won’t share here, but did you know that when you visit a hamam, the exfoliation is so intense and vigorous that everything, and I do mean everything, is in motion?   Laying on the slab, without the shield of my leopard print bikini top, everything was wiggling and jiggling, every which way.  I had jiggles in places that I was well aware of, but also jiggles in places that I had no idea.  Luckily Mel wasn’t bothered.  She was fascinated by the whole experience. We left the hamam with a new leopard print bikini, perfectly smooth skin, and a bunch of interesting observations about hygiene, culture, and tradition.

Tales from the field: India

September 3, 2010 Leave a comment

We’re doing our collaborative analysis this week for our study on the luxury lifestyle in India. In honor of that, here are a few more tales we haven’t told from John’s and Kazuyo’s weeks in Mumbai, Ludhiana and Bangalore.

Hospitality of Indian People
I was pleasantly surprised how hospitable Indian culture is.  As a part of our fieldwork, we are to go to a place they frequent. But the thing is that we ‘invited ourselves’ to do this, so of course, we are going to pick up the bill. How many times I had to insist to pay!  With one participant, he ended up taking us to dinner because we paid for other things!

How Quickly The Store Comes Down on the Price
Yes, it’s a bargain culture.  It’s a part of culture, but the level of bargaining is quite different here in India. One day, John and I are doing our context mapping and going to various stores.  We have gone to a few stores, including some carpet stores.  We are shown all silk hand-made carpet in various sizes, some wool/silk combo carpet, etc. They are feast to my eyes for sure.  I ask for the price, they ask me whether I want to know in Rupees or in US dollars.  I tell them Rupees.  They start rattling price of all those carpets.  Well, it’s a bargain price compared to what people pay in the US.  As we are there for about 20 minutes looking at it, and we are not making any commitment to buy any carpet.  They suddenly tell us that they will sell us TWO carpets for the price of one. I look at him and had to repeat the same sentence to make sure.  They say yes, but they say that we have to make a decision AT THAT MOMENT. Of course, we didn’t take their offer, but was surprised how quickly they came down on the price. They are a good price, BUT it’s not inexpensive.

Toilet in India
First day in Bangalore, I check into my hotel.  I had no sleep coming to Delhi and I ended up not sleeping at all when I checked into the hotel in Delhi and I had to take a very early flight out to come to Bangalore.  So mind you, I am pretty tired.  I check in and go to the bathroom, I am very confused.  There is no bathtub, but a little hand-held shower head next to my toilet. I think to myself, “Is this the shower? Really?”  So I go out from my room and find a housekeeping person and ask, “Does any of your room have a bath tub?”  They say no.  I ask “So, I am supposed to use a little shower next to toilet?”  They say yes.  I am thinking OMG.  Well, it turns out that little shower head next to toilet is their version of bidet! Apparently, it’s very easy to use, but I was afraid I would make a mess on myself, so I was not brave enough to try it.  It’s everywhere—public restroom, etc.  I am sure that it’s a lot more hygienic than using just toilet paper.  In Japan, we have a built in bidet and they are nice.

It’s a Male-Dominant Culture
Indian women I met are strong.  They are smart and they speak up. But when it comes to public space, it’s still a male-dominant culture.  When I went to context mapping with John, at several stores, they completely ignored me and only spoke to John—especially when it came to price.  At restaurants and bars, they ALWAYS bring a bill to a male who is in our party.  They look very confused when I bring out my credit card to pay a bill. Even though I am the one who is putting down my credit card, a server often brings a bill to John (or a male person who is together).  They just do not seem to get it!

Service Sector is Superb in India—except at the airport
Service in India is something to be said.  I wish that it is like that in America.  At a restaurant, hotel, bar, shops (even though they might be trying to sell things with higher prices), people are very nice, polite and pleasant.  They say “Yes, Mom”, “No, Madam”, and they do pay attention to your needs and fairy quickly to meet our needs.  Even at one hotel I was not even a guest, they gave us several recommendation to where we should go, made some calls for us, etc.  Unheard of in America, right?  Do not expect from airport staff though.  It’s kind of a huge downer especially as the last stop to leave India.  Maybe it’s because it is an international airport and there are just simply too many people. But airport guard almost sent me away because I didn’t have an itinery which made me frantic because I was catching a flight to come home!  But another guard came to rescue me after hearing me screaming at him and straightened a matter.  I think it would have been difficult for ERI to come bail me out from a jail in India.

Animals in Ludhiana

August 10, 2010 Leave a comment

by John Kille

After a mix up with flights and luggage, I got to ride through rural northern India, in the state of Punjab, at dusk and into the night. It was dark and the streets were lit only by moonlight and oncoming cars. The traffic at night, from what I could see, was an ensemble of movement. I saw the donkey carts, bicyclists, bicycle rickshaws, scooters, motorcycles, cars, and large trucks. This was my introduction to Ludhiana, where I would be the next week.

There are more animals in the streets here than Mumbai. And I have had several encounters since arriving. During context mapping today, I saw an elephant walking down the street, led by a man with a rope. He didn’t appear bothered by the traffic wooshing by. I told my 6-year-old daughter about this later on skype and she seemed amazed.

Donkey carts are very prominent here, and while on our way to dinner in an autorickshaw, packed with 4 other people, we weaved through traffic and stopped next to a donkey cart—my head about 2 feet from his. The donkey looked over at me and seemed to say, “Hey, how’s it going?”

On the way back from dinner, the auto rickshaw driver dropped me and Sahil, my local ethnographer, off about a half a mile away from the hotel because other people in his vehicle wanted to go left, and he wanted to save gas. We paid him 10 rupees and began walking. The streets were very dark, since electric power is scarcer here, and street lamps are sometimes non-existent or not working.

Near the hotel, there was a large dark blob shifting about in the darkness directly off the road. The curious ethnographer I am, I wanted a closer look. Sahil grabbed my arm and pulled me away. “Be careful, he could run at any time.” I looked again and saw a large bull eating grass, his focus seemed on the food, but that could change.

Berlin

August 9, 2010 Leave a comment

I just arrived in Berlin to spend a week following up on the first half of fieldwork Melinda accomplished.  Here’s a few tidbits from my arrival:

– Customs was easy breezy! Just a couple of kiosks outside the arrival gate. In, out and oh so fast.

– I can eat deli meat every morning for breakfast if I want to.

– Coffee. Strong, delicious coffee.

– Berlin does not feel overwhelming or chaotic. I am grateful for that.

– I kind of like Berliner fashion. It looks comfortable, a little bit urban chic and has nice walkable shoes.

More later…fieldwork for me starts tomorrow.

Categories: International, Travel

Kazuyo on the Auto-Rickshaw

July 20, 2010 Leave a comment

We’ll be bringing you some of Kazuyo and John’s experiences in India over the next several weeks…

Negotiating with an Auto-Rickshaw Driver
One morning, I went to a fancy hotel in Bangalore to do context mapping.  The hotel people were horrified that I was planning to hail an auto-rickshaw to go there.  No problem!  I hailed one and got there for 15 rupees.  So I tipped him and gave him 20 rupees.  On the way back, I hail one, and give him my hotel address. He nodded and I got in.  He doesn’t push the button to start a meter, I say it to him, “Please start a meter” and he tells me that it would cost me 30 rupees.  I look at him, and say “It cost me 14 rupees to get here.”  He shook his head and said, “No, 30 rupees.”  I kept saying “No,” and asked him to start his meter.  He refused.  I told him that I would get out and find another one.  He thought I was bluffing because I was a foreigner, but he found out that I was not bluffing shortly thereafter!

Auto-rickshaw can go anywhere…except for a herd of cows
It’s not uncommon to see a cow in Bangalore, and I met/saw them frequently. They hang out on the street, on the road, in very random places.  Auto-rickshaws are smaller than cars, so they can go through a small alley and can go through dirt roads, mud, etc. But even auto-rickshaw wouldn’t go through a herd of cows, and we had to trail behind them on the dirt road for quite a while!

John: In India.

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment

The rhythm of Mumbai

Landing in Mumbai three days ago, I walked off the plane after a 15-hour
flight into a sweaty oven of an airport terminal. Now to the baggage claim.
After waiting in the wrong carousel for 20 minutes in a sleepy daze, I asked
a local for suggestions. All red bags became potential targets. This one?
No. That one? No. Joy shot through my body as I saw my bag circled around
the corner. Checking the tag. Yes!

Though customs in a mass of people, down a long corridor, the volume of
voices increasing with each step.

Now to find a taxi.

I exchanged money for rupees, and scampered to the prepaid taxi line,
waiting, explaining. Here’s the money. Thank you. Taxi this way? Okay.

Opening the door, the oven temperature turned up, and the volume increased
by two notches–shouting, honking, bright colors, exhaust fumes, days of
sweat, an array of blue, yellow and white cars, and . . .there it is!

Into the taxi and now through the city. Honking, braking, acceleration.
Honking, braking, acceleration. Mumbai traffic. A continuous mass of metal
twisting through the city in this wondrous rhythm of communication, all
minds working together.

Traffic rules seem to cease, or become mere guides. Cars moving forward like
creeping, colorful snake, my driver part of the heartbeat, looking all
directions at once. Four cars wide in a three-lane road, side mirrors folded
in for increased road space, speckles of paint and dent on cars corners.
Red. Blue. Yellow. Can a motorcycle slip by? Yes, there he goes. Handle bar
missing side mirror by a centimeter.

At one point yesterday, an auto rickshaw behind us hit our car slightly,
enough to trade paint, but probably no dents. The driver got out, inspected
the damage, yelled at the culprit, and we moved forward at the flash of
green light. At one thirty am two nights ago, I watched us run one red light
after another, in a blaze of speed–throttle opened up in pure joy, then
braking, honking.

Mumbai traffic. An exquisite example of collective thinking, communication,
and the beauty of human interaction. Four cars wide in a three-lane road.
Braking, honking, braking, honking.

Horns are their voices. Steaming tires are their shoes.

Kazuyo: I have arrived to India.

July 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Wow, here is my quick update/cultural experience of arriving to India.

Even at ORD airport, the gate heading to India had a little more chaotic feeling to it.  Not an unpleasant one. It’s just didn’t feel ordinary.  Let’s say compared to getting on a flight to go to Tokyo, it was distinctively different.

Flight was delayed, but we arrived to DEL about an hour late.  Going to immigration line, they have lines for Indians and foreigners.  There is NOBODY for foreigners’ lines.  I wonder “ummmmm……”  And another traveler says, “Oh, just wait.  It’s just a beginning.”

Some Caucasian people brave to Indians lines, and they seem to have gotten through. Not a problem. So those who are standing in line for foreigners wait patiently and finally, two immigration officers shows up to foreigners’ lines.

No question asked, they look at my passport, visa and give my passport back.  No questioning of why I am there, etc., the general customary questions immigration officers ask.

I don’t find an ATM machine. I am glad that I had some US dollar in cash and exchange at the bank.  I am sure that the rate isn’t great, but I have Indian rupees now.

Go through custom, and there are lines with people with signs picking up mostly foreigners.  I see a sign saying “Pre-paid taxi,” but be aware those are who pretend to be taxi drivers.  So I go to the counter and it says CLOSE.  I wonder, ok, what now?

Then I go to Jet Airways help desk to see if I can get a boarding pass for tomorrow.  But there is a couple who apparently have their luggage damaged and are going through the claim.  After standing in line for 15 minutes, they tell me that I need to go to domestic terminal for that.

Finally, I venture out to the arrival area and I see 3 windows for Pre-Paid taxi again.  I quickly get in line, 5 minutes pass, 10 minutes pass.  The line is not moving at ALL.  After 15 minutes of waiting, I ask a gentleman in front of me, what is going on. He says traffic is so bad, there aren’t enough taxi.  So just wait.

Meanwhile, everybody in the line is calling SOMEBODY trying to get a taxi or a ride.  I tried to call my hotel, but I was not smart enough to program how to call India on my phone and my call fails repeatedly.  So text for help to Melinda.

While I am waiting, checking my emails, and trying to be patient.  People are yelling and getting upset at the window, so the guy leaves.  I am starting to wonder whether I have to spend a night at an airport tonight.

Finally, 2 people come back to the window after 30 minutes or so waiting, and a line to the window (somewhat a line, but not a straight line) breaks out and people start rushing and running to the window.

There are two Asian women who were behind me and they run in front of me to get to another window.  I yell at them, “Hey, you were behind me.” They say, “well, you were too  slow, besides you were waiting in that line, not this line.”  They smirk  me a look and wait for their turn.  I think to myself, “is there any order here?”  It’s just the beginning, I realize later.

Finally, I get to my turn and the window person tells me that it would be 310 rupees.  I tell give him 400 rupees and he tells me that I need give him 10 rupee.  I tell him I don’t have it since I just landed. He gives me back 100 rupees and charges me 300 rupee instead of 310.

I follow the sign to get to pre-paid taxi and I start crossing and I get yelled at by a policeman I shouldn’t be going that way.  Sign is pointing left, but the line for the taxi is on the right.  So I get in a line.  I see the two asian women who cut in front me without any problem, 3 parties ahead of me.  I am thinking, “Japanese niceness has to go, I guess.”

It’s hot, loud, people yelling and shouting.  I am thinking that it definitely has different energy compared to the Philippines. The only word that comes to me is chaos, but it’s not the right terminology.  I wait and wait and finally a taxi comes up and I get in.  It’s HOT and HUMID. I can hardly breath.

Taxi person is very nice and asks me if it’s the first time India for me, I say yes.  The traffic is jammed, and the road is packed.  I see people hanging on the side of the car—I have seen this on photos, but people really DO that!  We drive through and spend maybe 20-25 minutes in the car, perhaps for 5 minutes when there is no traffic (another guy in line told me that it would be 5 minutes to the hotel from the airport).   At the toll booth, a man with a stick is checking underneath of trucks—I wonder if they are checking for bombs?  Or something being smuggled????

We drive by the field with burning tires (smell indicated that), honking traffic, people randomly stopping on the side of the road.  I see squatters and also smell curry.  Curry smells GOOD for sure, “Perhaps I will try something right before I leave India,” I think to myself.  I am thinking that it kind of reminds me of a combination of Manila and Kaoshang night market.

And suddenly, we pull into a gated area with a mall and that is where the hotel is. Separated from the rest of the chaos, but right next to the highway!

This is definitely a beginning of an adventure, I think to myself.